U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Authorizes Construction of Second Large Lock at Great Lakes’ Soo Locks

Aerial picture of the Soo Locks and International Bridge at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Photo Credit: Creative Commons

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is proceeding with plans to build a new Soo Lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan more than three decades after a new lock was first authorized.

The construction of a second Poe-size lock large enough to accommodate the largest ships servicing the Great Lakes region is one of the largest Great Lakes infrastructure projects in a generation.

The green-lighting of the project came last week in the form of an announcement that the Corps has formally allocated $32 million this fiscal year for design and construction of the project, which was first authorized in 1986, but project stalled under several administrations.

President Trump finally authorized the project in October by signing into law a sweeping bipartisan bill authorizing federal funding for a wide range of water infrastructure projects across the United States. 

The construction of the new lock will take place  over the next 10 years and funded through additional annual appropriations. The federal funds could also be combined with another $52 million committed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. 

“This is the moment we have been waiting for more than 30 years,” said Jim Weakley, President of Lake Carriers’ Association. “The announcement by the Army Corps’ that the construction program for the new lock at the Soo will officially begin is the direct result of the tireless efforts of so many people and organizations banding together to update one of the most critical pieces of American infrastructure. It is a great day for Michigan, the Great Lakes region, and the entire nation. We are elated.”

The funds will be used for design work and to resume construction that began in 2009. Construction projects initiating the new lock include deepening the upstream channel to accommodate more modern Great Lakes’ vessels as well as construction of the upstream approach walls. 

“Money added by Congress and the Corps over the last decade has been used for rehabilitation of the existing locks and for some preliminary construction for the new lock, but this is the first time the Corps has funded construction on its own,” Weakley said.

The Soo Locks at Sault Ste. Marie allow vessels of over 1,000 feet long to move between Lake Superior and the lower four Great Lakes. In a typical year, as much as 80 million tons of cargo pass through the Soo Locks, made up mostly iron ore for steel production, but also coal, grain and limestone.

Due to size limitations, the Poe Lock carries over 90 percent of all cargoes, as opposed to the smaller MacArthur lock. The addition of a second Poe-size lock will therefor boost efficiency and also offer a backup in the case that one of the locks needs to be closed.  

According to the 2018 study by Martin Associates on the economic impacts of vessel traffic moving through the Soo Locks, over 123,000 jobs are reliant on the locks which in turn supports $22.5 billion in economic activity. A Department of Homeland Security study conducted in October 2015 estimated that a six month outage of the Poe lock would result in 11 million unemployed Americans due the production stoppage.

“This announcement by the Corps’ is welcomed and timely as we approach the 50th year since the opening of the Poe Lock, critical to moving cargoes between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes,” said Mark Pietrocarlo, Board Chair of Lake Carriers’ Association. “The Locks are the backbone of American steel industry, power generation, construction, and essential for international trade with America’s heartland. This new lock provides resiliency and assurance that Great Lakes’ commercial maritime traffic will continue to support 237,000 jobs and drive $35 billion annually in economic activity.”